How the Post-Graduate Work Permit Program Works

The Post-Graduation Work Permit (“PGWP“) allows students who have graduated from most Canadian public post-secondary institutions to stay and work in Canada upon graduation.  As someone who remembers when I was in undergrad the frustration of international students who had to leave Canada upon graduating even though they would have jumped at the opportunity to stay, work, and pay taxes in Canada, it is certainly a welcome program.

PGWPs are open work permits. This means that international graduates who possess them can work for any employer.  There is no restriction on the type of work that can be performed.  Having said that, if a student wishes to work in health care or in education they will need to first obtain a medical exam. And, as with all work permits, PGWP holders are prohibited from working in the sex industry.

There is no requirement for a job offer prior to applying.

Eligibility

Outside of Quebec, in order for an international graduate to obtain a PGWP after graduating, an international student must:

  • have a valid study permit when applying for their PGWP;
  • have continuously studied full time in Canada, except for the final academic session, where part-time studies are permitted;
  • have completed and passed a program of study that is at least eight months in duration at either a public post-secondary institution, a private post-secondary institution that operates under the same rules and regulations as public institutions, or at a Canadian private institution if the student was enrolled in a program of study which led to a degree; and
  • apply for the work permit within 90 days of receiving written confirmation from their educational institution that they have met the requirements for completing their program of study.

If an international student in Canada completes a post-secondary program of study that is two or more years, the student can apply for a three-year work permit. If the program of study is between eight months and two years, then the student will be eligible for a work permit lasting for a period equal to the duration of the student’s  studies.

How to Apply

An international graduate must submit the application for a PGWP within 90 days, from either the date their final marks are issued or when they receive a formal written notification of graduation from the institution, whichever comes first, indicating that they have met the requirements of their program of study.

As well, their study permit must continue to be valid when you submit your application for a work permit.

The work permit application package and guide can be found on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada’s website here. The checklist can be downloaded here. In addition to the standard forms and documents that are required for work permit applications, PGWP applicants are required to provide the following:

Combining Programs

One question that frequently arises is what would happen if a student obtains a second one-year diploma after having already completed a one-year diploma prior to that.  Would the student be eligible for a one year PGWP or a two-year one?

The answer is that the length of the two one-year degrees may be combined to obtain a three-year work permit.  For example, a student who obtains a one-year diploma program in Canada, and then completes a one-year MBA, well receive a three year PGWP.

Distance Learning

Students who complete a program of study by distance learning (from outside or inside Canada) are not eligible for the PGWP.

After much uncertainty over how this distance-learning policy was to be interpreted, pursuant to the IRCC website officers are recommended to use the following guidelines in their assessment of an applicant’s PGWP eligibility when they have taken distance or online learning in Canada:

  • when less than the majority of all the credits earned by the student toward the completion of a program of study were earned by completing online courses, a post-graduation work permit may be issued based on the length of the program as confirmed by the school, including credits earned from both in-class and online courses; and
  • when the majority of the credits earned by the student toward the completion of a program of study were earned by completing online courses, the applicant is ineligible for the PGWP, as the program may reasonably be considered a distance-learning program.

Implication of Doing a Victory Lap and Going on Exchange

While the PGWP requires full-time study, there is an exception for people in their last semester.

As well, going on exchange outside of Canada will not result in someone being ineligible to obtain a PGWP.

Open Spousal Work Permits

The spouse or common-law partner of a PGWP holder can obtain a work permit only if the PGWP holder is working in a skilled occupation as defined in National Occupational Classification 0, A or B of the National Occupational Classification website. To demonstrate this, the spouse or common-law partner should show the following.

  • a letter from their current employer confirming employment or a copy of their employment offer or contract; and
  • a copy of 3 of their pay stubs.

Refusal Rates

One of the more surprising things about the PGWP is its rather high refusal rate.  Indeed, during the first six months of 2016, the PGWP refusal rate exceeded 20% in every month except May, and in both June and March the refusal rate was 40% or more.

Although a breakdown of the reasons for refusal of PGWP applications has not been published, it is likely because international graduates either:

  • attended a private school whose graduates are not eligible to receive PGWPs (which, contrary to the opinion of some private institutions) is mot of them;
  • their application was returned for being incomplete and when they tried to apply again their study permit had expired; or
  • a visa officer determined that they did not meet the full-time studies requirement.

In order to avoid such rejections, it is important that students:

  • research their prospective educational institution so that they know whether it qualifies;
  • ensure that their PGWP application is complete and that it includes the correct fee amount; and
  • if there is any question about whether their studies were full-time, to make sure that it is explained in their application.

As with all applications, the onus is on the applicant to make sure that they have shown that they meet the requirements of the PGWP.  If something is unclear, the visa officer is not under any obligation to seek clarification, but can refuse the application. For this reason, it is imperative that international graduates ensure that their application is complete and satisfactory.


The Post-Graduation Work Permit

Canada’s Post-Graduate Work Permit (“PGWP”) program allows international students who have completed certain Canadian post-secondary programs to obtain work permits after graduating.  The work permits are open, meaning that the graduates can work for any employer(s) in any Canadian province(s).  It is a fantastic program that enhances the competitiveness of Canadian post-secondary institutions internationally, and is normally an essential transitory step for international graduates looking to eventually obtain Canadian permanent residency.

However, every year there are many international students who mistakenly think that they will be eligible to participate in the program after graduating only to discover midway through their studies that they cannot.  It is accordingly very important that all international students in Canada understand how the PGWP program works.

Basis in Law

Section 205 of Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Protection Regulations provides the government with the authority to create programs to issue work permits to foreign nationals when it is satisfied that public policy objectives relating to the competiveness of Canada’s economy or academic institutions are met.  The PGWP is one of these programs, and detailed information about it can be found on the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (“IRCC“) website here.

As the Federal Court has noted in numerous decisions (such as Osahar v. Canada), immigration officers can determine these requirements to be binding.

Eligibility and Validity

Outside of Quebec, in order for an international graduate to obtain a PGWP after graduating, an international student must:

  • have a valid study permit when applying for their PGWP;
  • have continuously studied full time in Canada, except for the final academic session, where part-time studies are permitted;
  • have completed and passed a program of study that is at least eight months in duration at either a public post-secondary institution, a private post-secondary institution that operates under the same rules and regulations as public institutions, or at a Canadian private institution if the student was enrolled in a program of study which led to a degree; and
  • apply for the work permit within 90 days of receiving written confirmation from their educational institution that they have met the requirements for completing their program of study.

A PGWP’s duration will be equal to the length of the educational program that the international graduate completed, up to a maximum of three years.  Any completed program that is longer than two-years will result in a three-year work permit.  In other words, a two-year diploma and a four-year degree will both result in a three-year work permit.

It is important to note that it is the length of the program of study that is important, and not the actual time that it takes an international student to complete their program. For example, if a student enrolls in a program of study that is normally eight months in duration, but completes it in six months, then the student will be able to obtain an eight-month work permit after graduating. Conversely, an international student who takes two years to complete a one-year program will only receive a one-year PGWP.

There are complicated rules and scenarios for students transferring from one program to another, or completing multiple programs, that are beyond the scope of this article.  However, a particularly common one is that students who obtain a one-year degree or diploma from an eligible institution in Canada after having obtained, with the prior two-years, another diploma or degree from an eligible institution in Canada, may be issued a work permit for up to three years.  For example, if a student obtained a one-year diploma from the University of British Columbia in 2013, and then in 2015 obtained a MBA from the University of Toronto, then he would be able to obtain a three-year PGWP.

Graduates may submit their applications online, or, in certain cases at a Canadian port of entry or at overseas visa offices.  Students who have completed their program of study and who apply for their PGWPs are permitted to work in Canada while IRCC processes their applications, provided that they were indeed full-time students enrolled in eligible programs while they were studying, and that they did not exceed their authorized off-campus work periods while they were students.

Finally, unlike with international students, the spouses or common-law partners of PGWP holders are not automatically entitled to open work permits.  They will only be eligible if the PGWP holder obtains skilled employment, and can demonstrate this to IRCC by presenting an offer of employment as well as a copy of one or more pay slips.

Ongoing Complications

Students who complete a program of study granted by a non-Canadian institution located in Canada are ineligible to obtain work permits under the PGWP program.  However, students completing a program of study that has, as part of the program, an overseas component, such as an exchange, will be eligible as long as they earn a Canadian educational credential.

There are two further restrictions, or potential restrictions, to obtaining PGWPs that are currently the subject of litigation that potential international students and graduates should understand.

The first is that students participating in distancing learning programs, either abroad or in Canada, are ineligible to obtain PGWPs.  In 2015, this restriction generated considerable media attention, as IRCC refused the PGWP applications of an entire graduating class at a private post-secondary institution after IRCC determined that the institution’s program constituted online learning.  Some of these graduates have sought intervention from the Federal Court of Canada, and one of the questions before the court is whether there is a percentage of online courses threshold that must be met before IRCC can declare a program ineligible.  Until either IRCC or the Federal Court provides clarification on this matter, international students who wish to participate in the PGWP program should understand the possible negative consequences of enrolling in any online courses.

Second, recent graduates applying for PGWPs must ensure that they complete their PGWP applications promptly and properly.  With most work permits applications, if IRCC either refuses or bounces an application for incompleteness, then an applicant can typically apply for restoration of status within 90 days.  It is not clear, however, whether restoration is possible in the case of the PGWP because of the IRCC’s requirement that a recent graduate’s study permit be valid when they apply for their PGWP, although several Federal Court decisions seem to imply that it really is up to the officer.

Indeed, the PGWP has a surprisingly high refusal rate. During the first six months of 2016, the PGWP refusal rate exceeded 20% in every month except May, and in both June and March was 40% or more. 


Question & Answer – Post Grad Work Permit Continuity (IR-07)

The following is an e-mail exchange between an immigration representative and Citizenship and Immigration Canada regarding Post-Graduation Work Permits.  The Post-Graduate Work Permit is a phenomenal program which allows graduates of Canadian post-secondary students to work in Canada on open work permits.  It is not clear, however, whether people who complete a program, and then go into another program that they don’t complete, are eligible. 

Please note that what I have reproduced below should not be viewed as legal advice.  The reproduction of question and answer has not occurred with the affiliation of the Government of Canada, nor with the endorsement of the Government of Canada.

Question – May 18, 2013

Dear Madam I Sir,

I have a question about post-graduate work permits and Operational Bulletin 194. http://www. cic. qc. ca/english/resources/manuals/bulletins/20 1 0/ob 194A. asp

OB 194 is clear that when an individual completes a credential, and then earns another credential immediately after completing the first, then the individual can combine the duration of the two programs when calculating the length of validity his/her post-graduate work permit

My question pertains to the opposite scenario. Where an individual completes a credential, and then immediately starts a different program but does not complete it, then is that individual able to get a PGWP for his first program even though it has been more than 90 days?

For example, if someone completes a B Eng and instead of getting a PGWP enrolls in a M Eng program, but part way through the M Eng. program decides that they do not want to complete it, then can that person get a PGWP valid for three years because they completed the bachelors and has always been in Canada on study permits?

Thank you,

Answer – May 23, 2013

The person has 90 days from the completion of their program to apply for the post-graduate work permit. If the person continues studying in a new program, as you stated, they can combine their programs and it is 90 days from the end of the ‘combined’ programs. Please note that the first program must be a minimum of 8 months in duration.

However, in your example, if the person does not complete the second program then they have 90 days from the completion of their first program to apply for the post-graduate work permit.

I don’t understand the motivation behind this policy.  In my opinion, we should not be penalizing students who attempt to obtain further education that they cannot complete.  While “don’t start what you can’t finish” is certainly a motto that some people live by, people who attempt a Master’s shouldn’t lose eligibility for programs that they qualified for when they completed their Bachelors.


Post-Graduate Work Permits in British Columbia

Lately, I have received numerous enquiries regarding which private post-secondary institutions are eligible to have their students receive Post-Graduate Work Permits (“PGWP“) in British Columbia.  Coincidentally, on June 5, 2012, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (“CIC“), issued Operational Bulletin 262 (“OB 262“), which addresses the issue.

First, it is important to note the distinction between students enrolled in a degree program at a private post-secondary institution, and students enrolled in a diploma or certificate program.  All students in Canadian private institutions which are authorized by provincial statute to confer degrees are eligible to participate in the general PGWP.

As well, there is a Pilot Project in British Columbia which provides that diploma and certificate students at certain British Columbia private post-secondary institutions are eligible to receive Post-Graduate Work Permits.  The Pilot Project expires on January 31, 2013, and international students accepted into programs of study at participating institutions after August 31, 2012 are not eligible to participate in the pilot.

Students who have completed a program of study that is at least eight months or more and received a diploma or certificate in a career training program from the following institutions are eligible to apply under the Pilot Project:

  • Sprott-Shaw Degree College
  • Arbutus College of Communication Arts;
  • Business and Technology
  • Ashton College
  • Canadian Tourism College
  • Centre for Arts and Technology
  • Eton College
  • Greystone College
  • John Casablancas Institute of Applied Arts
  • MTI Community College
  • Omni College
  • Pacific Audio Visual Institute
  • Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts
  • Pacific Rim Early Childhood Institute
  • Sprott-Shaw Community College
  • Stenberg College
  • Universal Learning Institute
  • Vancouver Central College
  • Vancouver Film School
  • Vancouver Institute of Media Arts

Additional requirements, and discussions of specific scenarios (such as transfer students), can be found here.